Green roofs have become a commonplace in eco-building. They improve biodiversity, slow the rush of stormwater to the drains, reduce the risk of overheating and soften the urban landscape. They range from deeply planted roofs that require extra engineering to support the soil, especially after rain, to simple mats sown with sedums that can be laid almost anywhere.
An early task for me is to destroy a rather lovely green roof that has flourished on site for decades. No-one planted it or laid sedum mats, it has just accrued over the years: a deep green moss that supports the fragile roots of tiny flowers and enough insects to attract a regular crowd of small birds.
Unfortunately this biodiverse idyll thrives on a foundation of asbestos. The roof sits upon a garage that was erected in those halcyon days when asbestos was the darling of the construction industry. Of all the industry’s doomed love affairs with exciting materials and new methods, this one turned out to be exceptionally tragic, with thousands of deaths in the UK attributable to exposure to asbestos.
So, no messing about. I brought in Sperian, a specialist asbestos contractor, to remove the roof and take it away for safe disposal. The experience was a bit like being an extra in ET: the two man team dressed up in suits fit for an encounter with an absent-minded alien before meticulously dismembering the roof, wrapping each corrugated panel in plastic and carefully vacuuming up every speck of dust. My curiosity was too great to miss all the fun so I stood back and took photographs, trying not to breathe too heavily.